Representative Image
Representative Image

Every drop counts

By Deepti Jain (ANI) | Updated: Aug 29, 2019 14:18 IST

New Delhi [India], Aug 29 (ANI): In the next few years, several states of the country will feel that they have been sentenced to hydrological poverty. Such a situation was evident in a number of areas this year, particularly during the summer season.
The issue was also highlighted by the World Resources Institute (WRI). According to its report titled 'Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas', India is the world's 13th most water-stressed country and if the issue is not addressed immediately the situation may worsen.
Notably, 12 of the 17 countries are from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and climate change may complicate the crisis these nations face, the document warned.
Environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Vandana Shiva believes that the only way to combat the water crisis in India is to ditch chemical industrial agriculture, make changes in the cropping pattern and switch to traditional methods of water conservation.
Speaking to ANI, Shiva who is a tireless defender of the environment said, "India is a land of water conservation but unfortunately people have forgotten it. Chemical industrial agriculture which was started in India in the name of Green Revolution uses ten times more water to produce the food."
She also claimed that 95 per cent of the water of this country is being misused for irrigating farms due to wrong cropping pattern in the states and added that millets and jawar were the staple food for majority of states in India before Green Revolution.
"Places such as Marathawada are suffering from water shortage due to sugarcane cultivation, which is a water-intensive crop. The crop which is suitable for this region is jawar and not sugarcane. Punjab, which is a land of five rivers, is also facing water crisis due to plantation of rice when their staple food is millets and jawar. These crops are the future as only 250 mm of water is required to irrigate a small plot of agricultural land as compared to 2500 mm of water for sugarcane cultivation."
"Before the Green Revolution in India, the staple food of the majority of the states in India was millets and jawar and not rice. If we start growing millets, we will have 400 times more food in our country by using the same amount of water. In India, there is not only water emergency but also malnutrition emergency. White polished rice is not providing any sort of essential nutrients to the people," the environmentalist elaborated.
Notably, between the months of February and June this year, scores of people residing in isolated pockets of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu faced water crisis as the levels in 91 major reservoirs fell. According to the Central Water Commission, the total live storage capacity has come down from 39 per cent in mid-February to 25 per cent as on April 12.
Shiva who is the author of 'Making Peace With the Earth' and an advisor to the Women's Environment and Development Organisation, also expressed concern over the depletion of groundwater and claimed that lack of democratic planning has led to water crisis which in turn has resulted in expanding the system of landlordism.
"Earlier, locals, as well as the farmers, used to fetch water and irrigate fields with the help of the Persian wheel. This traditional machine only allowed people to use 10 feet of water below the ground. But with the introduction of deep energising tube wells in agricultural farming, the groundwater got depleted below thousands of feet. For instance, in Gujarat, during the droughts, the groundwater table was down by 1500 feet, which means no ordinary farmer can tap it. These poor farmers then fall into a trap of debt. They seek help from the traders in the city to set up the tube well in lieu of paying them rent for the water on a monthly basis. Such a process is encouraging landlordism in India," she said.
The renowned environmentalist also stressed upon practicing organic farming claiming that gallons of water can be saved and soil moisture can also be retained for longer period of time.
"Farmers are falling into a debt trap because of the intensive external irrigation, which is not water conservation. We are not conserving water where it needs to be conserved -- on the soil, on the farm. In India, at present, only 5 per cent of organic food is produced. We must encourage people to consume organic products as even a few hectares of agricultural land is able to hold 80,000 litres of water. With one per cent of organic matter, one can save upto 16,000 litres of water. Moreover, soil moisture can only be conserved for longer time through organic farming," the environmentalist added.
On a closer look, 55 per cent of India's total water supply comes from groundwater resources. And the trick to maintaining groundwater levels is through aquifers or bawadis and the proven methods of water harvesting. Water being one of the precious resources has allowed civilisations to thrive and survive despite persistent periods of drought.
During earlier times, there was enough available underground water and in storage tanks and small river reservoirs created by check dams to meet the minimum needs for humans and agricultural consumption.
Vandana Shiva also stressed upon the need to involve local communities in water management programmes. She believes that every water body such as a lake, pond and tank needs ownership and a sense of community participation and added that every drop of water needs to be conserved and saved.
"The classic case of the community management programme is the Plachimada Struggle against Coca Cola in Kerala. In March 2000, Coca Cola started operations at its bottling plant at Plachimada. In the next few years, the area surrounding the plant began to deteriorate as groundwater became contaminated and toxic waste was released by the plant. Within a span of six months of commencement of operations at the plant, the locals complained that the water was unsuitable for drinking or cooking as it had turned white in colour.
"A case was filed against the plant owners and on December 16, 2003, the High Court, in response to the writ petition by the Panchayat, came out with its decision. The bench held that groundwater was a public property held in trust by a government and that it had no right to allow a private party to over-exploit the resource to the detriment of the people," she added.
One can see that India is realising the value of water the hard way. This year also, the monsoon got delayed leading to the water crisis in many parts of the country especially in the state of Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra where long serpentine queues of people fought over the drinking water.
As the concern over water availability for domestic use and agriculture increased with water tables depleting at a faster pace, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for a collective effort to augment and protect the country's water resources. During his Independence Day speech, he announced the Jal Jeevan Mission, which plans to supply potable water to all households by 2024.
Under this mission, the Centre will focus on water conservation and rainwater harvesting in as many as 256 districts in the first phase. Besides, it will carry out other initiatives such as reuse of water and recharge structures, intensive afforestation as well as watershed development. (ANI)